Players Welcome Mason's Homecoming

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When Derrick Mason decided to reverse his surprising retirement announcement after 20 days of questioning his status, it was a welcome surprise to his teammates.

In a relatively hushed manner, Mason called Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti Saturday morning and informed him of his plans. Then, when Mason pulled his gunmetal Maserati up to the team hotel for a meeting with general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, some players took notice.

After Mason was spotted at McDaniel College, where he underwent a physical and took the team's conditioning test, the homecoming was confirmed.

"It was a tough decision, but I think it was a good decision for me to come back," Mason said. "I needed to evaluate my life, football and my career. The last several weeks thinking about it and talking with my family was an important time for me and them.

"I still have an intense fire inside me, and I want to play. My family and I wanted to finish it out the right way. I felt like I had left something undone, and I wanted to finish it. I believe this is a good example for my son and my daughter on how to be thoughtful and also follow through."

For those that were close to him, Mason's return was a strong possibility.

"I knew there was always a chance because he loves football. He made that decision, but I knew he loved the game," said fellow receiver Mark Clayton after Saturday's afternoon practice. "He loved being around his boys and having fun, so now the fun continues."

For 20 days, Mason's status and the state of Baltimore's receiving corps was in limbo.

The 12-year veteran issued a statement on a Web site owned by his agent, C. Lamont Smith, on July 13.

"After 12 years, I have seen it all and done it all," Mason said at the time. "Right now, I am content with the decision I am making. All good things come to an end and I am ready to see what else life has to offer.

"I have been thinking about this since the season ended. Emotionally I am just not that enthused."

This was days after the murder of Steve McNair, a longtime friend, which obviously affected him. Some teammates and pundits speculated that family issues were the reason to retire.

Mason, who is in the final year of his current contract, had also publicly lobbied for an extension, which prompted some to wonder whether money was an issue.

Whatever the case, the Ravens are happy to welcome Mason back to the locker room.

"Phew! I'm glad he's coming back," exclaimed tight end Todd Heap. "We were going to miss him a lot if he had retired, but I think he took some time to think about it and make the decision with his family. I was pretty pumped to see him."

Mason, 35, has performed at a high level late into his career. In four of the five seasons he's been a Raven, Mason topped 1,000 yards. He led Baltimore in 2008 with 80 catches for 1,037 yards and five receiving touchdowns.

The two-time Pro Bowler also eclipsed the 10,000-yard mark last year, becoming only the 31st player in NFL history to reach that milestone.

"He's one of the best receivers in Ravens history in just a short time here," Heap explained. "He's a guy that is definitely going to raise the level of our offense. You saw what he brought to the table last year, and it's going to be no different this year. He's the same guy, except maybe a little bit healthier."

Health has been an issue this offseason. Mason had surgeries on his left shoulder to repair his labrum and scapula. He wore a red non-contact jersey while participating in Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

Without Mason, the Ravens were throwing to a group led by Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Kelley WashingtonMarcus Smith and Justin Harper. Everyone in purple and black insisted they were comfortable with that lineup.

But there is no doubt that a sigh of relief exhaled through Westminster, Md.,

"We were ready, but we knew what his coming back would do for us," Clayton said. "We're excited about it, and we're going to keep on working.

"It brings experience. We know what we're going to get when we step on the field. Now, with whoever steps up, we'll have four solid receivers we can put on the field and know we're going to get plays."

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